Today, 30th November 2017, is the first International Digital Preservation Day. This is coordinated by the Digital Preservation Coalition, an organisation we’re proud to be a member of. As part of the day’s activity the DPC has released the BitList, a list of endangered digital species loosely modelled as a concept on the IUCN’s Red List. In this short blog post I highlight some of the items on the list of particular interest to the DCC community.
Like the Red List, the Bit List classifies materials at different levels, from lower risk through concern to critically endangered and practically extinct. At one level everything on the list is of concern to research; almost any type of digital content, from teletext to videogames, has the potential for research to be carried out on it. But some are particularly close to home for those concerned with the curation of digital research material. Two items on the critically-endangered list stand out. The first is unpublished research outputs, which includes research data that hasn’t been placed in a repository, research software, and community resources like fishbase.org that may face sustainability rather than technical challenges to their longevity. Another item on the critically-endangered list that’s of undoubted research interest is what’s described as ‘media art’, encompassing a variety of digital and interactive art forms with a significant degree of technological dependency. The fragility of some forms of art isn’t something that’s exclusive to the digital domain but it is one which acquires an increasing degree of urgency when art is dependent on sometimes obscure formats, hardware and software, and the loss of such art will leave a significant gap for art historians of the future.
Also on the critical list and of unquestionable research interest is gaming, virtual worlds and related forms. These have been a significant cultural form for well over a decade; measured by consumer spend alone they exceed the cultural significance of the film industry, which itself is increasingly derivative of the gaming world. The problems of preservation they pose aren’t purely technical, but also include challenges relating to intellectual property rights and their absence from the collecting mandates of most cultural heritage institutions.
Moving up to the next level of endangerment – those which are merely endangered – we encounter many more classes of material of concern to research. Published research outputs, including electronic journals, are on this list and work by our colleagues on the Keepers Registry makes clear why they should be. This is an area where it is all too easy to be complacent. But every other item on the endangered list will worry researchers. It includes corporate records, digital legal records, master radio recordings, many forms of digital music and born-digital records from local government and smaller government agencies, where the infrastructure and mandate which deals with the products of national government are often absent.
There’s much more to read about in this first edition of the Bit List. As with the IUCN, the DPC intends to update the list periodically both to celebrate those areas where attention has resulted in positive changes to risk and to highlight those digital ‘species’ which are newly endangered. Read the list both to see what action you might take to improve the chances of survival of some of those on it, and to see if you are aware of other types of digital content at risk that we should add in future years.